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Are U.S., Canada still crushing world of women’s hockey?

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SOCHI, Russia — Don’t let the final score fool you. This was not a particularly close game. The United States beat Finland, 3-1, Saturday in the first women’s hockey game of the Olympics, but for the really telling stat, one must consider the shots: 43 for the Americans, only 15 for the Finns.

Fifty-three seconds is all it took for U.S. forward Hilary Knight to open the scoring at Shayba Arena, capitalizing on a giveaway to beat the Finns’ superb (and busy) goalie, Noora Raty.

“Obviously, to have an opportunity to score in the first minute of the game sets the tone,” said U.S. coach Katey Stone.

The Americans dominated after Knight’s goal. The score was 3-0 by the end of the second period, with the shots 33-7. The Finns managed a power-play goal late in the third to spoil Jessie Vetter’s shutout bid, but the outcome was all but official by then.

Stone, though, was eager to give her opponent credit.

“They played very well in front of Noora Raty,” she said. “It’s not just about the goaltending. It’s about how well that their team plays in front of her. They made it very difficult for us.”

Stone was also sure to express her belief that the women’s Olympic tournament is a “world event that anyone can win.”

WATCH: How impressive was U.S. victory?

Finland is the third-ranked team in the world, by the way. The U.S. is first, Canada, a 5-0 winners vs. Switzerland on Saturday, is second.

And the competitiveness of the women’s tournament is, of course, a sensitive topic. In 2010, the U.S. and Canada so badly dominated the rest of the teams that then-IOC president Jacques Rogge threatened its place in the Olympics.

“There is a discrepancy there. Everyone agrees with that,” he said. “We cannot continue without improvement.”

Hence, sensitivities to suggestions there hasn’t been enough “improvement” in the “discrepancy” department.

This year’s tournament even has a new, unique format to reduce the number of blowouts – like Canada over Slovakia 18-0, or the United States defeating Russia 13-0 – that occurred in Vancouver.

In Sochi, there’s an A group with the top four seeds (U.S., Canada, Finland, Switzerland) and a B group with seeds 5-8 (Sweden, Japan, Russia, Germany). For the preliminary round, all the teams in the A group will play each other, and all the teams in the B group will play each other. After that, the top two in the A group will get a bye to the semifinals, while the bottom two in the A group and the top two in the B group will meet in the quarters.

WATCH: Highlights from 3-1 U.S. victory

It’s extremely unlikely, but theoretically, a team in the A group could lose all three of its preliminary round games and still win the gold medal.

That isn’t how most tournaments work.

U.S. forward Amanda Kessel said Saturday that she doesn’t worry about it.

“I just see all the other teams getting better every year,” she said, “and I think our rivalry with Canada, that just makes people want to watch more.”

U.S. captain Meghan Duggan struck a similar tone.

“To be honest, the media makes it a bigger deal than we do in our locker room,” she said.

But Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser, arguably the greatest women’s hockey player ever, isn’t quite so carefree.

“I think I always worry about the future of women’s hockey, mainly because of the fact that most of the world pays attention to the game only two weeks out of every four years,” Wickenheiser said earlier this week, according to the Globe and Mail. “The tournament has to be competitive, there’s no question, and countries have to show progress. That’s the number one thing.”

Progress, though, is a tough thing to measure, because it’s not like the top two countries are standing still.

“The problem is that Canada and the U.S. continue to improve and it’s harder for the other countries to catch up. So that’s a dilemma that women’s hockey is always going to face,” Wickenheiser said.

“I think the game has really come a long way in the [four] Olympics that we’ve seen.”

The U.S. plays Switzerland Monday before closing out the preliminary round Wednesday versus Canada.

World champion wrestler from Russia cedes Olympic spot after brawl

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MOSCOW (AP) — A two-time wrestling World champion said Tuesday he is giving up his place at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after a brawl marred a Russian qualifying tournament.

Viktor Lebedev was competing against Ismail Musukayev in a semifinal bout at the Russian nationals on Friday when Musukayev was angered by refereeing calls against him and shoved Lebedev.

Musukayev’s supporters and coaches charged into the ring, prompting a scuffle that was broken up by riot police (video here). Wrestlers from Musukayev’s home region of Dagestan then boycotted the tournament in protest at the standard of refereeing, causing a nationwide scandal.

Lebedev told local news outlet News.Ykt on Tuesday that he is withdrawing from the Olympic team as “a matter of honor” because he feels officials gave him favorable calls in front of his home crowd in the Siberian city of Yakutsk.

“Let’s say I win Olympic gold. I don’t doubt that I could win it,” he said. “Even if I were to climb onto that podium with the gold, I wouldn’t have those emotions. I wouldn’t be especially happy that my dream had come true.”

Lebedev said Musukayev had been wronged but insisted his opponent had been wrong to start the brawl. “You can’t behave that way regardless of how the judging goes for you,” he said.

Lebedev can be replaced on the team by another Russian in the 57kg class, though he was the favorite to go to the Rio Olympics after winning World Championships bronze and European Games gold last year.

Wrestling is traditionally a source of great pride for many of Russia’s ethnic minority groups, including in Lebedev’s Arctic home region of Yakutia and in Dagestan, a province in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus otherwise known for its Islamist insurgency.

Competition for a place on the Russian national team, one of the world’s best, is fierce and in recent years various domestic competitions have been marred by brawls between fans from different regions and ethnic groups.

Earlier this month, a wrestler from Chechnya hit his opponent after the end of the bout and some of his team, including a man with a pistol, rushed into the ring in support.

MORE: Eight Russians positive in 2012 Olympic retests

Zika, Rio’s readiness, new sports on IOC’s meeting agenda

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — With the Opening Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro just over two months away, Olympic leaders have plenty of troubling issues to deal with this week.

The Zika virus, unfinished venues and political chaos in Brazil. A flood of positive drug tests from the past two Summer Games. Fresh accusations of state-sponsored doping in Russia. Vote-buying allegations involving Tokyo’s winning 2020 bid.

All these challenges and more will be on the table when the International Olympic Committee executive board holds a three-day meeting starting Wednesday in Lausanne. It’s the last meeting before the IOC gathers in Rio on the eve of South America’s first Olympics.

The policy-making board will also name the team of Olympic refugee athletes for Rio, consider the proposed five additional sports for the Tokyo Games, review the bidding for the 2024 Olympics and nominate several new IOC members.

“I can’t recall an executive board meeting with so many issues on the agenda,” IOC vice president Craig Reedie told The Associated Press. “There is a whole range of difficult issues facing the Olympic movement, led by Rio.”

A look at what’s keeping the IOC busy:

RIO: READY OR NOT?

Rio organizing committee president Carlos Nuzman will give his latest update Thursday on preparations for the Games, which open Aug. 5. The buildup has been dogged by political, economic and public health crises.

Last week, a group of 150 scientists suggested the Olympics should be postponed or moved because of the outbreak of Zika, which has been linked to severe birth defects. But the World Health Organization said there was “no public health justification” for scrapping the Games, and Olympic officials have repeatedly said they will go ahead.

Some leading athletes have expressed concerns about going to Rio. Spanish NBA star Pau Gasol said Monday he may skip the Games because of the Zika threat and that other Spanish athletes were also considering staying away.

Meanwhile, Dilma Rousseff has been suspended as Brazil’s president pending a Senate impeachment trial, with Michel Temer taking over as acting president. A final vote on removing Rousseff could come on Aug. 2 — three days before the opening of the Games.

Brazil is dealing with its worst economic recession since the 1930s, leading to the slashing of Olympic budgets.

Some sports venues are behind schedule. UCI President Brian Cookson said he remains “very, very concerned” about delays to the velodrome, and the city said Monday it is changing contractors to take over the construction. ITF President David Haggerty said “an awful lot of work” is needed to get the tennis venue ready for the Games.

Water pollution remains a concern for Olympic sailing, rowing and open-water swimming events. Crime is a worry: Three Spanish sailors were recently robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight while training in Rio.

DOPING, DOPING, DOPING

Reedie, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, will deliver a report that will include an update on the agency’s independent probe into allegations by Moscow’s former drug-testing lab director, Grigory Rodchenkov, that he operated a state-backed doping scheme for Russian athletes that involved switching tainted urine samples for clean ones during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

Russia’s track and field athletes remain suspended from global competition, with the IAAF to decide on June 17 whether to keep or lift the ban for the Rio Games.

The IOC has recorded 55 positive results in retests of Olympic doping samples — 32 from the 2008 Beijing Games and 23 from the 2012 London Games. The tests were designed to catch cheats who might compete in Rio. More positives are expected.

The Russian Olympic Committee said 14 of its athletes from Beijing and eight from London tested positive. The IOC is retesting the “B” samples before announcing sanctions and medal reallocations.

NEW SPORTS

The IOC board will examine the proposed addition of baseball-softball, surfing, skateboarding, karate and sports climbing for the Tokyo Games. The sports, which would add 18 events and 474 athletes, were recommended for inclusion last year by Tokyo organizers.

While some officials have expressed concern over whether skateboarding has a unified governing body, the board is likely to recommend the five sports for inclusion as a package, which will go to a vote of the full IOC at its session in Rio before the Games.

TROUBLE IN TOKYO

After controversies over the main stadium, venue changes and the Olympic emblem, Japanese organizers are now embroiled in a corruption probe.

Leaders of the Tokyo bid acknowledged making payments, before and after the 2013 vote, totaling about $2 million to a Singapore company linked to Papa Massata Diack, son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack. The younger Diack is the subject of an Interpol wanted notice. Lamine Diack, a former IOC member, has been accused by French prosecutors of taking more than $1 million in bribes to cover up Russian doping cases.

Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda, who headed Tokyo’s bid, said the payments were for legitimate consultancy work. The committee has opened an investigation; the IOC says it remains a civil party to the French probe.

REFUGEE TEAM

On Friday, Bach will announce some feel-good news — the names of the refugee athletes who will compete as a team under the Olympic flag in Rio. A total of 43 refugees were originally considered for the team, including a teenage female swimmer from Syria, long-distance runners from central and western Africa, and judo and taekwondo competitors from Congo, Iran and Iraq.

While Bach initially said he expected the final list to comprise between five and 10 athletes, officials say the number could reach 12 to 15.

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